This morning’s New York Times pointed out that mass school shootings happen mostly in small town America.

Okay, this seems to be so, in light of Parkland FL and Santa Fe TX.

But I thought immediately of the cumulative toll of shootings in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, my St Louis, etc.   While mass shootings in big city schools are rare, I feel confident in thinking that the total deaths of urban young people by gun tops the cumulative death total of these small town school mass shootings.

For example, 27 young people age 15 and under shot to death in Chicago during 2017 including a 4 day old preemie shot while in her mother’s womb.  I love Chicago but it’s notorious in recent years as the city with the most Americans shot to death.  I won’t make the effort to try add up all other American big cities.

So, is some light shed on the question of guns and violence, and a way forward, if we take a good look at this contrast?

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This morning I am in Kansas, really not all that far from the state line with Missouri, my current home state.

Today and the next few days are ‘furlough’ which to a Salvation Army Officer means time to not-work.  I will do that for the most part.  Part of furlough in Elk County is a leisurely morning run down a dirt county road.  More than routine it is my ritual.

Yesterday morning eight whitetail crossed the road ahead as I ran north, turning with the road as it jogs right, and then left as it resumes its northerly course.  A rural water district water tower ahead beckoned me once more onward, upward the rising road.

Kansas Elk County Road 21 4 24 2018

the view midpoint in a 10k route return

Furlough days allow for these things typically put to the side.  Long runs, and reading this excerpt from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book Reconstructing The Gospel just out from Intervarsity Press.

Reconstructing.

Systems.

I paused in my reading.  I will get a copy of the book.

I paused at the word ‘reconstructing’.

Salvation Army work currently involves me in the roll out of a racial equity lens for our Army use throughout the St Louis region.

I live in St Louis, my office based here too.  Responsibilities frequently take me on the road throughout Missouri and southern Illinois.  Away from life which I enjoy in our Benton Park West neighborhood, a ten minute walk to Cherokee Street, the gritty diversity, the earnest and often clueless young white folks moving into BPW.  And the personal challenge to me, a professional minister with years of experience in urban inner cities now able to live in a place I understand.  Often.  There are times I am not so unlike those earnest ones.

Reconstructing the gospel is about reconstructing the systems that are in place which handle, shape and unavoidably misuse the euangelion.  A racial equity lens helps us to examine these systems.  Organizations and institutions are systems.   The Salvation Army is a movement.  As is the way of all things, it requires shape and form.  Organization.  Ways, traditions, culture.  Decision making patterns and instituted policies.  Thus, like all organizations, we need a lens in our 21st century American post-Michael Brown St Louis setting.  We needed it pre-Michael Brown.  But now we do have a way of examining our movement here in terms of racial equity.

On the road between Kansas City and this quiet Kansas county we listened to an interview with Rhiannon Giddens, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant last fall.  She is now working on a “theatrical treatment” of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898.  This musical work will help us see what American history calls Reconstruction, the decades following our Civil War.  Listen to the interview.  Giddens helps us realize it should not have been a surprise what the powers of white supremacy did to Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction of the late 19th century South in America is controversial.  Until lately it has been viewed through a set of white supremacist eyes.  As a schoolboy I remember reading it to be so in our history textbooks.  It is only later in life that I’m learning otherwise.  Giddens’ new work will be part of helping tell a full story.

Things not rightly put together do not work as meant to be.  Things rightly put together can go wrong.  The attention of God in our world is in the rightly putting together of things, and in the making right of things gone wrong.  Regeneration.  Reconciliation.  Redemption.

Running.  Reading.  Ruminating.  My morning run takes me past cattle chewing the cud.  They spot me, stand, stare.  One begins to run and then all.  Every morning, through the years.

We are beginning to notice.  Using our eyes in new ways.  This is our time to start moving, some would say running to make right the things wrong.  To make new things rightly.  Reconstructing.

As we reconstruct systems, help us, Lord, to be surprised.

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Gail and I have followed David Claerbaut for years.  First many years ago in his published writing on urban ministry, then several years ago a visit to his church around the corner from us in Chicago.  Now I keep up via his blog.

This is the week America remembers the killing 50 years ago of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Here’s what D.C. wrote on it.  I found it helpful:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

You might also be interested to know that the killer of Dr. King escaped from a Missouri state prison for an armed robbery on the street I run along every morning.

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A little over a year ago Gail and I talked over lunch with Rob and Stacy about what we’re doing in St Louis and our shared commitment to mission. Excited to see this new missional community expression on the West Coast!

Waking up this morning before the sun, the above photo was the beautiful scene – a Valley we are falling in love with every day, ready to fulfill God’s purpose for its existence.

January 2018 is when valley miSsionAl communitues officially launches (if you haven’t yet, see the last blog post with the 2023 Vision). We will be moving into a house in Canoga Park any day now, and so much is being planned: a house blessing party, Bible Study, worship, meals and much more. It’s going to be a place to send people out in love and service.

Even though Crags and Gilmore in Calabasas has been our home for several months, we are only ten miles from Canoga Park and go frequently.

Tuesdays, Sweet Prayers day, we now visit 5 Massage Parlors faithfully. After meeting in the parking lot of the Adult Rehab Center…

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More of my local life as a St Louisan.

I live in the Benton Park West neighborhood, not as chichi a place as Benton Park to the east. BPW’s greater socio-economic diversity means that it tends to have more ‘issues’ so we keep our eyes and ears open to dangers. But also to its uncommon beauty.

img_0297I run a regular morning route south into the Dutchtown neighborhood, seeing far more aesthetic pleasures than I am able to capture in photos. I style myself as a member of the nonexistent Dutchtown Runners Club.

This week I’ve enjoyed these two ongoing studies in migrating bricks.

Construction and deconstruction.

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Every Monday a scripture portion arrives in my email.

Major Israel Velazquez sends it.  Major Israel is a retired Salvation Army Officer.  He  and his wife, Major Wilma, served many years in some of the Midwest’s largest cities.  Their ministry was Salvation Army programs for adults with substance abuse problems.

This morning this verse came and right away I knew what it was saying to me.

ACTS 26:16;18 (VOICE)

Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me.”

Earlier at breakfast Gail and I talked about what happened on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Witnesses strongly disagree on some points.

But on one point the most reliable witnesses agree that Michael Brown charged at Officer Darren Wilson.

What in the world was going on in Michael Brown’s head?

We will never really know.  But Gail and I feel we have a better than average guess what was going on.  Michael Brown had enough.

Sure, there is a supporting cast of contributing factors. Petty larceny.  Tensions in and unique to Ferguson.  Decades-long tensions in America between its powers-that-be and American people who have no part in the America of those powers.  I’m sure you can add to the list.

But he had enough.

There is no other explanation for why in the middle of a hot summer day a black man would run down the middle of the street directly at a white policeman holding a gun.

He’d had enough.

***

 

“open their eyes.”  It’s my responsibility to open their eyes.  Maybe your responsibility too.

There are many people in America who do not see.  They don’t understand the oppressive weight on those who do not have a place in America.  They do not see the overt and covert oppression visited on individuals, families, communities.  They don’t know, really know, people who live with this weight.  They don’t get it.

We have a responsibility.  We are to open their eyes.  That they might turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.

In turning comes forgiveness of sin.  In turning they find a place.  Not in the systems and structures of this world’s powers.  They may already be in those places.

‘place’ in Jesus’ words, later recounted by the Apostle Paul when forced to stand as a prisoner before authorities, is a place where God’s people discover they are set apart for a holy purpose.  God’s purpose for his people.  To talk of.  To live for.  To bring full life to human beings.  “I have come that they may have life” (John 10:10).  God calls his people to join his mission.

We have a responsibility.

To people who have just gotten too tired of it all.  Had enough.

We have a responsibility for people who don’t get it.  Whose eyes need to be opened.

People on both sides of the road.

A few years ago my daughter Kirsten gave me this Matteo Pericoli book.

It sits on the shelf near my writing table.  On the other side is a window facing the alley.  It is my window view just as Pericoli’s line drawings present window views from the apartments of 63 notable New Yorkers who also give a few words about what their windows reveal.  Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Junot Diaz.  IMG_4144

From my table I can look into much of our neighbor’s backyard.  Last night I looked up from reading and saw a little girl in that yard just as she looked up from play and saw me.  It’s a bit unnerving to see another person see you.  We both looked away.

Paul Goldberger writes in his introduction to The City Out My Window that the drawings and statements give “to some extent, a comment about privacy, and the tension between public and private life that is an essential element of city existence.”  I find it so.

The front room of our home faces the street.  I enjoy watching the street scene out of the window.  A beautiful sycamore tree.  The tower of St Francis a quarter mile away.  Brick buildings across the street in sunlight by day and streetlight by night.  And people walking along the sidewalk that is no more than ten feet away from our window.  Sometimes we happen to see each other seeing each other.  I hear their conversations, St Francis’ clock bell on the quarter hours, the wind rustling the sycamore.

Upstairs our window faces the same direction as the window by my writing table.  But from it I never view neighbors.  It provides a static scene of buildings in which only the weather is changeable.  IMG_4141

Just now.  St Francis tolls nine bells.

Within the hour, before I climb upstairs, I will look at the bell tower.  It and the sycamore and the night lit brick walls will serve as my urban ‘Good Night Moon’.

My city view will help bring closure for the day.  Just as does the setting sun in an outdoors life.

 

 

I am a little sad this evening.

This afternoon I pulled off the shelf my copy of Kennon Callahan’s Small, Strong Congregations:  Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation.  It is a book I used for several years in Chicago as an instructor of men and women preparing to become Salvation Army Officers.

I needed it today for a project I am working on. The project deals with how we can determine whether or not local Salvation Army units are being effective for our part in the mission of God in the world.  Missio Dei.  Determining so will help us also determine how to wisely invest resources.

Curious.  Where in this world is Dr. Callahan these days?  Google.

I found this information at the Mission Leaders Network site –

For nearly 30 years, the Seminar for Pastors and Key Leaders has gathered persons come from all over the United States and from Canada for learning, sabbath and conversation. 2017 will be the final week-long gathering at Callaway Gardens.

This final week-long gathering took place last month in Georgia.

This makes me a little sad.  I’ve been an advocate for what Callahan has discovered and shown the Church, including not a few Salvation Army folks, about what it means to be God’s people in mission in His beloved world.

Years ago Gail and I led a Salvation Army unit on Chicago’s westside, the Chicago Temple Corps, at the corner of Madison and Ogden.  Our eight years there was certainly one of our most memorable life experiences.  We were greatly helped by Dr. Callahan’s Twelve Keys To An Effective Church.  Thank you, Ed Homer, for bringing it to us.

Even if Kennon L. Callahan does not conduct another seminar, write another book, consult with the next discouraged minister, many of us, including myself, understand that mission is not about ourselves, but others.  Not receiving, but giving.  Not sitting in a religious facility, but going out into the world to share what we have received from God, to give and share with others.  Amen.

That’s why I’m only a little sad.  Callahan

 

From today’s New York Times –

“It couldn’t have hit a tree? A light pole? A sign?”

SGT. MICHAEL J. LOPUZZO, the commander of the 40th Precinct detective squad, on a bullet that had traveled nearly two city blocks to strike an unintended victim, in the Bronx precinct’s 14th – and final – homicide of 2016.

It reminded me of our family’s experience with a traveling bullet we had nothing to do with, yet it visited us.  Here’s ‘pop’ from some time ago.

Last week on my early morning run police were gathered outside a home, ready for something.  It was quiet.  They were nervous.   I got the hard stare as I passed before their attention returned to the home.  Had they tracked down the random gunfire we hear at night?  It’s been quiet since.

It is unsettling to hear gunfire where it doesn’t belong.

I know that I’m supposed to, I know that I want to, but treatment of the Urban Millennium I promised a few weeks ago will need to wait.  Maybe I’ll get to it this New Year’s Day weekend.  But here’s something that at least obliquely addresses Urban Millennium.

Last month the New York Times featured Emily Badger’s article on the American rural vote in our recent election.  You will also find interesting bits such as “in 1920, for the first time, the Census Bureau counted more people living in urbanized America than in the countryside. This hasn’t been a rural nation ever since.”  This gives an idea of what is meant by the Urban Millennium.

There’s more great bits of information about urbanized America in the context of what some see as a frustrating election cycle that minimized voting power of urban Americans.  Check it out.

populous states subsidize less populous ones, which receive more resources than the tax dollars they send to Washington”

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my view on Fairbanks one rainy Chicago day a few years ago

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